A report from The Information (via The Verge) details how Google has been collecting and using data from Android devices across the world to improve its own apps and services and to thwart competition. Google seemingly collects "sensitive" user-consented data in an anonymized form as a part of its effort called Android Lockbox. The system is powered by Google Mobile Services which is basically a part of all Android devices out there that have access to the Play Store.
The type of data collected includes how many times an application has been opened, how long it was used, and more. The collected data gives Google insight into app usage behavior of Android users and helps it in improving its own apps and services. Reportedly, YouTube turned to this data to find out how people were using TikTok in India in a bid to improve its own TikTok rival after the app was banned in the country. The company also analyses the collected data from other competing email apps to improve its own Gmail app, per The Information report.
The report does note that Google employees have to request access to view this data and in some cases, such requests are denied as well.
Google did admit to collecting app usage data but noted that this data was also freely available to developers. However, they are only limited to viewing data about their own apps, while Google has access to data from third-party apps as well. The company also said that it uses the collected data to prioritize apps for battery management.
A Google spokesperson issued the following statement to The Verge:
“Since 2014, the Android App Usage Data API has been used by Google and Android developers who have been authorized by Android OEMs or users to access basic data about app usage—such as how often apps are opened—to analyze and improve services."
If accurate, Google collecting such user data and then using it to improve its own apps and products gives it an unfair advantage over its competitors. The company using its dominant position in the market to its advantage could make it the subject of antitrust investigations.
Source: The Information